Page images

of wages the copyhold rents paid by the customary tenants on their estates were no longer adequate. The important result followed that the lords were no longer able' with profit to retain their arable demesne in their own hands, and began to lease it out to tenants. The system of leasehold tenements did not originate with the Black Death, but it received a great impetus as the result of forces which the pestilence set in motion. The historian of the Berkeley family has described how Thomas, lord of Berkeley, began to lease his land after the insurrection of 1381, a practice extended under his successor in the following century and imitated by "all other great lords of manors almost throughout the whole kingdom "1. The mediaeval organization of labour had, in fact, almost completely broken down, and with it the system by which the owner of the soil was also a farmer. The spread of commutation and the extraordinary rise in wages forced the lord of the manor to abandon the direct exploitation of his estate and to alienate the demesne, content henceforth to draw his income, not from the diminished profits of bailiff-farming, but from the rents of his tenants. At first the lord provided not only the land, but also the seed-corn and stock. This removed an obstacle which in the thirteenth century must frequently have debarred tenants from renting portions of the demesne, the difficulty of stocking the new land. But even the system of stock-and-land leases is older than the fourteenth century. An example may be found as early as 1279 where a manor was leased to the tenants: "and at the end of the seven years they shall render to us the aforesaid manor with the stock with which they received it. Also they shall give back the land well ploughed twice "2. This system of land-holding, known as the stock-and-land lease, subsequently developed into the modern system by which the lord furnishes only the land and the buildings, and the tenant the stock and capital. As a rule the demesne, instead of

1 Smyth, Lives of the Berkeleys, ii. 5-6.

* English Economic History, Select Documents (ed. A. E. Bland, P. A. Brown, R. H. Tawney, 1914), 79. For an example of a dishonest farmer, see Vict. County Hist. Berkshire, ii. 193.

* Rogers, Agriculture and Prices, i. 24; iv. 1-2.

Tenant farmers.

being cut up into separate tenements, preserved its unity and distinctive features, being frequently rented by a single tenant as one large farm. The monastery of Battle in Sussex owned twenty-two manors; in nineteen the demesne was let to one farmer, in another to two, and in a third to three 1. The tenants of the demesne were, in fact, distinguished from the rest of the tenants in three ways. In the first place their holdings were usually much larger than other tenancies. Again they were held on a different tenure, leasehold for a term of years, and not freehold, copyhold, or tenure at will. Lastly their rents were often paid in kind, corn and hay and poultry, and not in money 2. The explanation appears to be that, while the lords were content to receive money payments from the rest of their tenants, they still clung to the thought that the demesne ought to furnish them with food for their household. Rents in kind thus continued, even in the sixteenth century, as a survival of the old manorial economy in which the cultivation of the demesne was carried on by bailiff-farming, and the estate was largely self-sufficing. In this way the lord solved the problem of cultivating the demesne by renting it to tenants, who were in a more favoured position for carrying on cultivation. With the assistance of their household they could provide a large amount of the labour, they were spared the cost of maintaining a staff of manorial officials, and seeking immediate returns on their outlay, they were able to reduce the expenses of farming. Thus land was henceforth held on a new tenure, ✓ no longer by labour dues, but by money rents for a term of years. Once the new conditions of land-holding had become general, there was no longer any need to demand personal services from the holders of land in villeinage-and commutation followed as a matter of course. The demesne henceforth ceased to be the nucleus round which the peasant holdings were clustered in a condition of economic dependency. On the manor of Wilburton 3 the lease of the demesne,

1 Savine, English Monasteries, 153. One was retained as a home farm. For small demesne tenancies see R. H. Tawney, Agrarian Problem (1912), 204. Savine, op. cit. 154, 165. On some estates the land-and-stock lease continued even in the sixteenth century: Select Cases in the Star Chamber (Seld. Soc. Pub.), i. lxxxiii. English Hist. Review, ix. 432.


comprising 246 acres of arable and 42 of meadow, to a farmer for a term of years at a rent of eight pounds was followed by the commutation of all the labour services due from tenants on the estate. On the monastic estates 1, however, bailiff-farming continued to survive more often, and at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries the monks were still farming their own demesnes on an extensive scale. But elsewhere the cultivation of the soil passed out of the hands of its owners, and the break-up of the demesne paved the way for the formation of a numerous and widely spread class of small peasant proprietors and tenant farmers—the yeomen of England.


We have now to determine the place occupied by the The Peasants' Revolt in the break-up of the manorial system. Revolt. It was the first great struggle between capital and labour, and has been justly described as "one of the most significant and interesting events in the whole of mediaeval v history" 2. Attention has been drawn to the fact that the causes of the rising have been largely misconceived. It has been wrongly assumed that the performance of predial services had become utterly obsolete at the time of the Black Death, and that the insurrection sprang from an attempt on the part of the lords to force the villeins back to the old system of labour dues which they had been allowed to redeem. But we have seen conclusive evidence that the exaction of week-work was still the general practice on many manors. Indeed, one of the remarkable features of the rebellion was the support lent by the country gentlemen, while the principal leader in Norfolk was a knight, Sir Roger Bacon 3. Their sympathy, however, was perhaps inspired by a belief which obtained currency among the insurgents, that the king's party was not unfavourable to the revolt and wished to use the popular discontent as a lever to overthrow John of Gaunt. Moreover, one of the chief seats of the insurrection

1 Savine, op. cit. 153.

2 Petit-Dutaillis, Histoire constitutionnelle, ii. 898.

* E. Powell, The Rising in East Anglia (1896), 3, 26.

4 Richard II. had to issue a proclamation denying that he favoured the insurrection: A Chronicle of London from 1089–1483 (1827), App. 212.

was Kent, where "there was no villeinage", though of course some labour services were exacted from the tenants. It was in fact a rising, not only of villeins, but of freemen, for tradesmen, artisans, the lower clergy and the free labourers were also implicated in the movement. The revolt had a political as well as an economic aspect, and one cause of the unrest was the unpopularity of the king's ministers, who had failed to check the pillaging of Scotsmen in the north and the raids of Frenchmen in the south, and had emerged so ingloriously from their foreign wars. Two measures of the government, which was identified in the popular imagination with the party of the landlords, in particular evoked a storm of popular hatred......The Statute of Labourers aroused passionate resentment among the rural classes whose wages it sought to depress. This was shown in the execution of Sir John Cavendish, Chief Justice of the King's Bench, who administered the act in Suffolk and Essex. Profound discontent was also stirred by the imposition of a poll-tax in 1381. On two previous occasions in 1377 and 1379 taxes had been levied for the purposes of the French war, but the contributions exacted from the poorest classes had not exceeded one groat, that is fourpence per head of the population. But in 1381 three groats, a sum equivalent to a week's wages, were demanded of every person over fifteen years of age, and the incidence of the tax also fell unequally. The poor were driven to take refuge in fraud, and gave false returns as to the numbers in their households. In Lincoln 1200 persons escaped contribution, in London 3000, while in Suffolk no less than 27,000 names were at first suppressed. Altogether more than one-third of those who paid the tax in 1377 evaded the tax in 1381. Between 1377 and 1381 the population of England as given by the returns for the Lay Poll Taxes appeared to have fallen from 1,355,201 to 896,451 persons, excluding the counties of Cheshire, Durham and Mon

1 Subra, P. 50.

2 Ch. Petit-Dutaillis, Introd. to Le Soulèvement des travailleurs d'Angleterre en 1381 (1898), pp. xli-xlii, xlix. 3 Powell, op. cit. 14.

4 The rich were ordered to help the poor to pay their tax, but in a great many villages there were no rich men, and the whole burden fell upon the poor; thus the distribution of the tax over the different localities was unequal C. Oman, The Great Revolt of 1381 (1906), 26-27.

mouth1. But to appreciate the full significance of these figures we must add that the total for 1381 represent the returns as afterwards revised by the commissioners. The original returns for 1381 made by the first collectors have not been printed; without question they would reveal a still more striking disparity between the years 1377 and 1381. This is proved by the figures for Suffolk; the number assessed in 1377 was 58,610 and the revised number for 1381 was 44,635, but the first return for the latter year was 31,734, thus disclosing an original difference of nearly 27,000 2. The government, which had been tricked on a lavish scale, appointed commissioners to institute an inquiry and inflict penalties on defaulters. The undertaking was hazardous in view of the large numbers incriminated; it proved to be the spark which set the whole country in a conflagration.

Apart from political grievances, social unrest was the Social dominant note of the age. The economic crisis weakened unrest. the popular attachment to custom and tradition, and left the minds of men disturbed and inflamed, eagerly receptive of the doctrines which Ball and his fellow-preachers were spreading through the land. Wycliffe, who leaned on the support of the aristocratic faction and taught that temporal lords had a right to their property, was not responsible for the outbreak, and the insurgents did not advance heretical views 3. But the spirit of his teaching and the denunciation of ecclesiastical riches were extended by his audience, not only to the religious, but to the social world around them. The insurrection brought together all the elements of disaffection, and furnished a rallying-point for all who were stirred by revolutionary fervour or had grievances to redress. At Cambridge the bells of St. Mary's summoned the townsmen to the Guildhall, whence they made their way to Corpus Christi College; and, after sacking it, proceeded to burn the University records crying, "Away with the learning of clerks, away with it "4. The University

1 Powell, op. cit. App., 120.

a Ibid. 6.

This seems now established: Trevelyan, England in the Age of Wycliffe, 199-200; Petit-Dutaillis, Histoire constitutionnelle, ii. 872. We may compare the Peasants' War in Germany.

4 Rot. Parl. iii. 106 a. C. H. Cooper, Annals of Cambridge (1842), i.

120 seq.

« PreviousContinue »